As kids we probably all remember running through the grass and stopping to pick the little yellow flowers in spring that by summer’s end became magical wish filled puffs of white. Yep I’m talking about the dandelion, since it’s bright yellow peeks out at me practically everywhere I go these spring days. Besides being a reminder of childhood dreams, this little plant is actually a medicinal wonder used in medical systems for centuries!
Dandelion’s common name comes from the French Dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s teeth,” as a result of the jagged edges of leaves being loosely similar to the teeth of those carnivores. The dandelion has quite a few similar-looking backyard relatives, so it is important to be able to tell them apart and choose the right plant!
Dandelion, or officially Taraxacum officinale, is full of essential nutrients for the entire body. Nutritionally, the dandelion has amazing value. The fresh spring leaves contain vitamin C, almost as much iron as spinach, and are a good source of vitamin E. Their leaves, which taste a bit like arugula, are also packed with beta-carotene, the most common source of vitamin A. Just one serving of dandelion leaves contains up to four times the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A. Dandelion leaves and root together contain trace vegetable protein, fat, and significant complex carbohydrates bound in the fiber. Its minerals are mainly calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and sodium.
Dandelion root is best collected before flowering in spring when they are most tender. Alternatively, roots collected after you make a wish on the white, fluffy seed head in the autumn contain a higher inulin content. Inulin is the plant starch that is one ingredient shown by research to help lower high blood sugar. Higher inulin levels also make roasted or raw root a great coffee substitute!
The flowers are also edible and have been found to contain compounds called flavonoids (this is what gives the dandelion its yellow colour). Flavonoids are the same antioxidants found in red wine or green tea that help us fight disease. As a mild bitter vegetable (both root and leaf), dandelion stimulates the tongue’s bitter tastes buds. Triggering bitter taste buds sends a nerve signal to the Central Nervous System’s vagus nerve. This Cranial Nerve in turn sends messages to the digestive system to function by stimulating the stomach, spleen and pancreas, aiding us in digestion.
Dandelion is a natural and powerful diuretic that removes excess toxins and water from the body, in turn purifying the blood. This means your liver has to do less work.
For many, the liver is abused with the amount of work it has to do on a daily basis. The liver is the organ that breaks down the bulk of medications you take and removes metabolites from alcohol and fatty foods. Dandelion not only benefits the liver, but also its digestive partner, the gallbladder. Your gallbladder is responsible for bile production allowing your body to break down fats. You need proper bile flow to utilize fats properly.
As a diuretic, dandelion stimulates you to urinate more, helping to cleanse the entire urinary tract as well as naturally lowering your blood pressure. Finally, dandelion is great for diabetics because it helps the body to produce insulin and control blood sugar. It also plays a role in bone health, offering a great source of calcium and can be used effectively in PMS related symptoms of gas, bloating, and water retention (because of dandelion’s diuretic effect, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding may want to avoid it).
The easiest way I incorporate this powerful plant into my diet is to use the greens in salads or cooking them with other veggies like kale. My favourite is by drinking dandelion root tea – important to note, avoid using any herb, but especially dandelion, from roadsides of places where pesticides and herbicides may have been used. This is because the plant “detoxifies” the soil, concentrating chemicals in its plant parts- totally great for the soil but bad in our pot of tea! This same ability of dandelion to act as a detoxifying herb is one reason it is beloved by herbalists who know many illnesses improve when our bodies start the process of detoxification.
Environmentally, dandelion is critical for bees (whose pollination as we know feeds the human species directly and indirectly). It flowers regardless of season or rising temperatures which is one more reason to grow it in every front and back yard of North America starting today.
And lastly, new and promising research is coming forth, accepted in both scientific and medical research communities, that one of most cursed backyard weeds is being developed as a non-toxic therapy for leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer and even drug resistant forms of cancer.
Its easy to see this little yellow flower that most consider an unwanted nuisance is a medicinal powerhouse found right in your own backyard. Next time you see one – make a wish and share with someone how incredible this little plant really is!